Dental services

The dental profession in Ireland is regulated by the Dental Council of Ireland, a statutory body created under the Dentists Act 1985. The Dental Council presently maintains four registers relating to dentistry:

  • Register of Dentists
  • Register of Dental Specialists (in respect of Oral Surgery and Orthodontics)
  • Register of Dental Hygienists
  • Register of Dental Nurses

Only dentists listed on the Irish Register of Dentists can legally practice dentistry in Ireland. As of September 2010, there are 2,702 dentists on the Register of Dentists, of whom 161 are also on the Register of Dental Specialists (36 for Oral Surgery, 125 for Orthodontics). Based on the current population estimate for Ireland of 4.4 million, there is one registered dentist for every 1,628 persons in Ireland.

However, not all registered dentists are engaged in clinical practice in Ireland. Some registered dentists may be employed outside of Ireland, some may work as administrators, researchers and/or educators, and others may have retired from active practice. Close to 10% of those listed on the Irish Register of Dentists are estimated to be older than the normal retirement age of 65 years.

The vast majority of registered dentists in Ireland work within the private sector, mainly as general dental practitioners. General dental practitioners in private practice are also the main providers of public dental services for adults via the State-run dental treatment schemes (i.e., DTSS, DTBS). While formal recognition of dental specialisation presently covers only oral surgery and orthodontics, de facto specialisation in other fields also exists as many dentists with postgraduate training and qualifications limit their practices to various specialisations (e.g., endodontics, periodontics, paediatric dentistry). Private sector dental practitioners normally operate on a fee-per-item basis; public sector dentists are salaried government employees and do not receive fees from their public patients.

Dental hygienists, dental nurses and dental technicians are auxiliaries to the dentist in the provision of oral health care. Dental hygienists engage in therapeutic and preventive procedures (e.g., scale and polish) as well as promotional and educational activities aimed at the prevention and control of dental caries, periodontal disease, oral cancer and other oral diseases. As with dentists, only registered dental hygienists are allowed practice in Ireland. Dental nurses provide chair-side assistance to dentists in the delivery of dental treatment and perform other duties relating to infection control, preparation of the dental surgery and patient care. At present, dental nurses are not required to be registered in order to practice in Ireland. Dental technicians construct and repair crowns, bridges and other dental appliances as prescribed by a dentist. In October 2008, a new class of dental auxiliary - clinical dental technician - was established. Registered clinical dental technicians will be legally qualified to fabricate and fit removable denture prostheses for patients independent of a dentist.

As of September 2010, there are 383 registered dental hygienists and 513 registered dental nurses in Ireland. There are currently 16 clinical dental technicians registered with the Dental Council.

Less than one in five registered dentists (15%) and registered hygienists (16%) are employed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) (based on whole time equivalent (WTE) employment as of April 2008). The Register of Dental Nurses is a voluntary register maintained by the Dental Council of Ireland and does not provide a valid estimate of the dental nurse workforce in Ireland.